This week, longtime robosexual musician Janelle Monae came out as “a queer black woman … who has been in relationships with both men and women.” While she initially identified as bisexual, she said, “Later I read about pansexuality and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too.’” But now many people are asking, What is pansexual? They’re looking for a pansexual definition, and we’re here to help.
What is pansexual?
A pansexual person is someone who is open to attraction with anyone, regardless of biological sex, gender, gender identity or sexual identity. This means pansexuals are open to attraction to androgynous, cisgender, intersex and transgender people. Sometimes the words pansexual and omnisexual are used interchangeably because the prefixes pan and omni respectively come from the Greek and Latin words meaning “all.”
Pansexual is considered a more inclusive term than bisexual, the word for people who are attracted to more than one gender, but this is a point of debate in the bi community. Some people feel that bisexuality only addresses the physical, biological sex of the people involved, rather than a person’s gender presentation, but others see bisexual as an umbrella term that includes pansexuals, omnisexuals and other sexually fluid labels.
Pansexual might sound like someone who is open to any kind of sex, including any kind of sexual fetish (paraphilia), but that’s not an accurate pansexual definition. The pan part of pansexuality refers entirely to being open to attraction with all sorts of people, not all sorts of sex. (Although there are certainly many open-minded pansexuals who might be willing to try new things — respectfully ask and see!)
Are there any famous pansexuals?
Janelle Monae isn’t the first celeb to come out as pansexual. Trans teen celeb Jazz Jennings, musician Sophie B. Hawkins (the woman behind this queer ’90s favorite), drag performer Courtney Act, rapper Angel Haze and singer Miley Cyrus all identify as pansexual.
As far as fictional characters, there aren’t many canon pansexuals on TV, and almost none on American TV. The best known pansexual is probably Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and its spinoff Torchwood (played by openly gay actor John Barrowman) … but Harkness is also the poster boy for the “extreme omnisexual” stereotype who will sleep with anyone or thing.
In the United States there’s Rick from the animated sci-fi show Rick and Morty, but as an obnoxious, amoral drunk, some consider him an unflattering depiction of pansexuality. There’s also David, the pansexual son played by Dan Levy in the sitcom Schitt’s Creek.
Other characters, like Degrassi‘s Imogen Moreno (played by Cristine Prosperi) are assumed by fans to be pansexual, but neither the creators nor the characters in the show have referred to her as such.